Read his lips on the RH bill
Posted on Jul 26 2012 by admin

This is a re-posted op-ed piece by Benjamin E. Diokno from BusinessWorld.

Is President Aquino for or against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill? Why can’t he make a bold, clear, and categorical statement in support of the RH bill considering that reforms in population management play a crucial role in his plan for a strong, sustained and inclusive growth for the Philippine economy?

In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), coming after a litany of backlogs in inputs in the education sector -- classrooms, desks, textbooks, teachers (?) -- that he hopes to address this year, Mr. Aquino said: “Perhaps, responsible parenthood can help address this.”

Perhaps? And why can’t he even mention the Reproductive Health bill, as if it is an unwelcome word? It’s the RH bill, not the Responsible Parenthood bill, Mr. President. And there’s a big difference between the two.


Mr. Aquino should know that the RH Bill, if it becomes a law, will help solve a lot of his -- and his successors’ -- fiscal woes. All of a sudden, budget deficits will become manageable, the likelihood of an investment upgrade improved, more funds will be freed up for much needed public infrastructure, and growth will be sustainable as the poor will rely less on the thinning forests for their sources of energy.

If RH bill becomes a law, less public funds will be needed to support the revenue-draining conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. It will mean giving conditional cash assistance to a few million less poor Filipinos.

If the RH bill becomes a law, less public funds will be needed to support the P297.7 billion -- and rising -- budget for basic education. There will be a few million less Filipinos to educate. And with fewer students, there will be less need for teachers, classrooms, desks, textbooks, and other educational inputs. The quality of instructions will improve under more pleasant physical environment.

If the RH bill becomes a law, less public funds will be needed to support universal health care. Maternal mortality rate will be reduced drastically.

And with better education and improved health care, labor productivity will increase, incomes will improve and poverty reduced and hopefully totally eradicated. It would be a really bright day for the Philippines when that day comes when the CCT program is no longer necessary.

If the population becomes more manageable, less will be spent on education, health, social safety nets such as the CCT program, public housing, peace and order and so on. Public funds will then be freed for essential public infrastructure which the economy badly needs in order to grow more vigorously and on a sustained manner.

With the current Congress in its final year, the need to pass the RH bill has reached a critical phase. Postponing it for next year, after a new Congress is voted into office, and with the current President on the second half of his term, is tantamount to inaction. If it is more difficult to approve the RH bill now, I find no reason why it would be easier to pass it after a new Congress is convened.

I find it incredulous that the population issue continues to be debated passionately in this country. This issue has long been dead and laid to rest in developed and most developing economies, including historically Catholic nations.


The benefits of the RH bill are well-known and supported by facts and figures. Below is the summary of these benefits, based on an updated paper* written by a group of professors from the UP School of Economics.

First, the experience from across Asia indicates that population policy cum government-funded family planning program has been a critical complement to sound economic policy and poverty reduction.

Second, at the micro level, family size is closely associated with poverty incidence, as consistently borne out by household survey data over time. Poor families are heavily burdened when they end up with more children than they want. The larger the family size, the higher the poverty incidence; this relationship has not changed over the last 24 years.

Third, the poor prefer smaller families, except that they are unable to achieve their preference. The poorer the household, the higher the “unwanted” number of children.

Fourth, the lack of access to contraception has important health implications. Maternal mortality rate already high at 162 per 100,000 live births [Family Health Survey (FHS) 2006] has risen further to 221 (FHS 2011). As a result, it is highly unlikely to fall to the Millennium Development Goal target of 52 by 2015.

Fifth, the health risks associated with mistimed, unwanted pregnancies are higher for adolescent mothers, as they are more likely to have complications during labor.

Sixth, there are unintended social costs (negative externalities) arising from mistimed and unplanned pregnancies. Parents who are able to space their children and achieve their desired number are also more likely to bear the full cost of raising and educating them. By contrast, poor families having more children than desired are constrained to rely more on public education and health services and other publicly provided goods and services.

Seventh, ensuring access to the full range of modern (“artificial”) FP methods-cum-appropriate information raises the success rate of achieving the desired family size. Limiting FP options to “natural family planning (NFP) methods only” fails to address the private and social costs of mistimed and unwanted pregnancies. NFP methods typically have 24% failure rates, meaning that if 100 women adopt NFP, 24 of them would typically become pregnant in a year.

All these fiscal and economic benefits from the RH bill will not happen overnight. But they will surely change, for the better, the country’s fiscal outlook, its people’s welfare, and the environment in the long run.

Responsible leadership means looking at the future, rather than the next elections. It means making hard decisions and actions, if such acts would improve the welfare of the greatest number of people.

*An updated and shortened version of an earlier paper first issued in August 2008 and reissued in February 2011. It also partly derives from an older paper titled “Population and Poverty: the Real Score” (December 2004), prepared largely by the same UP professors.

Benjamin Diokno is professor of Economics at the School of Economics, University of the Philippines (Diliman). He was formerly secretary of budget and management in the Estrada Cabinet and undersecretary for budget operations in the Aquino 1 administration.


Source: Benjamin E. Diokno, BusinessWorld. (24 July 2012)

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